Take The Stress Out Of Working With Friends & Family

Photo by Maureen Cassidy, Used with Permission

Think back to when you started your business. Who were your first “clients” (whether free or paid)?

Chances are you started by taking images of friends and family before getting outside clients to hire you.

While it’s important to be thankful for the people who helped you get started, things can quickly become awkward once you start raising your prices and are no longer just building your portfolio.

Friends & family might expect free or discounted rates. In addition, they might be some of your most difficult “clients” to work with.

So today I’m going to tell you why that happens and how to avoid sticky and difficult situations when working with friends and family. So let’s jump right in.

Why is it so difficult to work with friends & family?

The simple answer is because we have two different sets of unwritten rules that we tend to follow, and we have problems when we start to mix these two sets of rules.

I’ve been listening to the book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (affiliate link). In it, he talks about how we tend to follow one of two sets of unwritten rules: Social Norms and Market Norms.

Social Norms are unwritten rules that help us know how to act when dealing in social situations.

For example, friends are willing to help each other out for free, knowing that they’ll likely get the help back if they need it. They can ask for favors without thinking anything of it, they can call and chat just to pass the time, and they operate by other unwritten rules or social norms.

If you are visiting a friend’s house and they offer you a cup of coffee, you don’t expect to pay for it.

Market Norms are unwritten rules that help us know how to act in a market setting (or when there’s money being exchanged). If you want to get a haircut, you expect to pay for it. If you want to get a manicure while you’re there as well, it’s no surprise that you’ll have to pay extra for that.

If you’re at a restaurant and the waitress offers you a cup of coffee, there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ll have to pay for it.

There’s no clear set of rules for friends or family doing business together

This is why photographing friends & family gets complicated. We don’t know which set of rules to follow.

Do we follow social norms and treat it like a favor for a friend?

Or do we charge them and treat them like a client?

Or do we try to mix the two settings and do some sort of discount and then get frustrated when they don’t seem to appreciate it?

Your friend might ask you to do extra editing or go above and beyond and not expect to pay for it because they are thinking of things from a social norm perspective, while you might be super annoyed with them because they want all sorts of stuff for free when this is normally something you charge for.

If you’re treating this as a market exchange and they’re treating it as a social interaction, it’s likely to cause stress and frustration for both of you.

This is why photographing friends and family is often so difficult. So what do we do about it? How can we make working with friends & family frustration-free?

Make sure you’re both on the same page

If you want to make the experience go as smoothly as possible with the least amount of issues and stress, choose which set of rules you’re going to work by and don’t mix the two.

Then, once you’ve chosen which set of rules you’d like to work with, make sure that all expectations are made exceedingly clear before agreeing to work together. This is essential to making things go well for both of you.

Keep it Social

To keep things in the social realm, offer to do the shoot for free. Just like they’d spend an entire day helping you move, do everything you’d normally do without charging for it (or just charge them something small to cover your costs for the products they want to buy).

Let them know what you’re including from the start, and don’t get upset if they ask you for extra favors along the way. This is a favor for a friend or family member, and you can’t expect them to act the same way a client in the market realm would act.

How to Charge a Fee to Friends & Family

Let’s say you want to keep things in the market realm. You’re busy, short on time, and you don’t want to do photography as a favor. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this as long as you make it clear from the start.

That is sometimes the tricky part: Moving the expectations from the social norm setting to a market norm setting.

However, this video by Marie Forleo specifically for photographers explains how to do it so that there’s no confusion whatsoever. She shares a word-for-word script that you can use with your friends and family members so that they know that this is a business transaction and not a favor from a friend, and it gives them a way to graciously change their mind if they were only looking for a favor.

Watch the first 3 minutes of this video now:

Want to get more than just friends & family as clients?

At some point, every professional photographer needs to start branching out beyond their friend and family base and start attracting the clients they really want and need.

Not just getting more clients, but getting ideal clients.

Clients who are an absolute joy to work with.

Clients who love your work and are on board with your creative vision.

Clients who are willing to pay the prices you need to charge in order to get the business you’ve always dreamed of.

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3 Responses to Take The Stress Out Of Working With Friends & Family

  1. Great one. Every photog needs to read this and I will be sharing it with many. Thanks for the great words and analogies. Love the coffee one. Makes total sense
    thanks again Joe

  2. This post is just so right about working with friends and family. I made a photoshoot not so long ago with family members and it was quite complicated in the beginning. Apart from the usual stress that we have when put before a camera, they were also quite self-centered because they knew me and therefore would see me again. Maybe that’s this proximity that is paradoxically putting more stress on them!